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Spinning for Poland                                                                            and others who are both knowledgeable
                                                                                               about Polish history and friendly to the
                                                                                               cause, to watch for references to Poland.
                                                                                               The network has been effective in catching
Poland may have the ear of the White House and be a                                            even the smallest historical inaccuracies
loyal American ally, but the country still has an image                                        about the conduct of Poles during World
                                                                                               War II. Once a reference is identified, let-
problem in the United States, writes Robert Kopacz.                                            ters start going out from Skulimowski's
        ll the quotes sound eerily similar,     roots feel pricklier than hearing a Nazi       email, as well as from his network of

A       despite the diverse sources.
        Consider this Sidney Frank obitu-
ary, written by Douglas S. Martin, in the
                                                concentration camp that happened to be
                                                located on Polish soil referred to as a
                                                "Polish death camp." Blatantly inaccu-
                                                                                               helpers, asking for a correction.
                                                                                                  The consulate makes it quite clear:
                                                                                               Correcting the record is the order of the
January 12, 2006, edition of the New York       rate, it has the unfortunate effect of fan-    day; prickliness is not. The goal, accord-
Times: “After he saw Escape from                ning the flames of paranoia amongst            ing to Skulimowski, is to properly correct
Sobibor, a film from 1987 on the revolt in      those Poles who are quick to claim con-        the record and inform.
1943 of Jewish prisoners at a Polish death      spiracies to defeat or defame the Polish          In fairness to the various media cited,
camp, he tracked down nine survivors            nation. Ironically, when newspapers refer      when the Polish consulate in New York
and sent them checks of $11,000 each.” Or       to Auschwitz correctly, they seem to take      calls it to an editor's attention, apologies
take a look at the article entitled Files       pains to use the term "Nazi death camp,"       are forthcoming and corrections are pub-
Uncover Nazis' Trail of Death, written by       and not "German death camp," to avoid          lished in most—but not all—cases.
Colin Nickerson in the May 7, 2006 edition      hurting German feelings. Yet to refer to it    Judging from correspondence between
of the Boston Globe: “The famous                as a "Polish death camp" seems to be con-      the Consulate and the editors of the New
Schindler's list is part of the archives—       sidered an innocent mistake. So is all of      York Times, the Times appears to be
consisting of transport orders diverting        that a part of a larger plot to defame the     responsive.
more than 1,000 Jews from the Polish            Polish nation?                                    Up until now, in the battle to create a
death camps to jobs at a factory operated          According to the Polish Consulate in        positive image of Poland in the world,
by the courageous German businessman            New York, the answer is no. "In most of        Poles have tended to be on the defensive.
Oskar Schindler.” Or read this excerpt          these cases these intentions are innocent      Efforts to change Poland's image have
from World History—People & Nations             and come mostly from lack of familiarity       been limited to reacting to these occur-
by Mazour (2000), p. 729: “In his book,         with history and sensitivity. But it is not    rences in the media. But responding to
Never to Forget, Milton Meltzer quotes an       just the intentions, it is the result," that   inaccuracies in the media is not enough.
SS officer sent to a Polish death camp to       matters, notes Krzysztof Kasprzyk,             The recent June 11, 2006, editorial in the
deliver poison gas. There he witnessed          Poland's consul general in New York.           New York Times, captioned, “Poland's
the mass extermination of Polish Jews…”            Kasprzyk should know. A journalist by       Bigoted Government” shows that more
  The list goes on and on. Some items are       profession, he left his native Kraków in       needs to be done. Suffice to say, in a quick
references to "Polish death camps" like         the 1980's for the US, working as a chief      and informal survey of the Poles living in
that in a brochure for the 15th New York        editor for a weekly publication in             the US, their reaction to the editorial,
Jewish Film Festival, describing a film         Chicago, and in 1988 joining the faculty of    even those who dislike the current gov-
about Auschwitz. There was even a histo-        the University of Colorado at Boulder as a     ernment, was that the editorial was
ry book used in the school curriculum for       visiting professor of journalism. He           unfair and biased.
Pittsford, NY, suggesting that Poles, not       returned to Poland in 1991, and joined the        Fully aware of this, Kasprzyk and
Nazis, herded Jews into ghettos. The            Foreign Service, holding consular posts        Skulimowski are examining a more
Polish language version of Poland’s             in Vancouver and Los Angeles before tak-       proactive plan to better inform the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs website has a       ing the Consul General post in New York        American public on Polish history. They
page listing as many such erroneous ref-        in October of last year.                       are pressing hard to get the New York
erences as they have been able to find             As he suggested, the intentions might       Times to change its stylebook to include
globally. Although these excerpts are           be innocent, but the implications are not.     proper citation of Auschwitz and express-
from recent publications, many can recall       The repeated references read by a person       ly avoid the usage of “Polish death
hearing such references back in the             who is not fully informed about World          camp.” Could we be seeing better Public
1980's.                                         War II history—and many Americans are          Relations for Poland in the future?        ■
  So what is going on? A recent                 not—can also create an inaccurate sub-
Economist survey of Poland described            conscious impression of Poles amongst          Author's Note: Comments from Polish govern-
Poles as "prickly" when it comes to for-        Americans. That can operate to the long-       ment representatives in the U.S. were made prior
eigners' ignorance of Polish history and        term disadvantage of the collective Polish     to the June 11, 2006, New York Times editorial.
culture. But even those Poles who resist        community, and the Polish government's
the urge to be prickly will have a hard         relations with the United States.                              About the author: Robert
time resisting the notion that all the refer-      The consulate in New York is hardly sit-                    Kopacz is a freelance writer liv-
ences to "Polish death camps" across so         ting on its hands. Kasprzyk, together with                     ing in the United States and
many different US media sources are             the Vice Consul General, Marek                                 reporting on Polish-US relations
more than just a coincidence. Nothing           Skulimowski, has developed a network of                        for Poland Monthly. He can be
will make a Pole or any person with Polish      Poles living in the US, Polish Americans                       reached at

56                                                      Poland Monthly No. 53 (07/2006)

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